Data Policy GIS Ordnance Survey

No comment – just grab a pint !

CheersI am not going to comment on this weeks Story in the Guardian, as I would never discuss the details of any potential commercial arrangement in public.

But I am personally very disappointed for the people at CASA at University College London who have developed a world class 3D city model which could potentially have been licensed to many organisations, not just Google.

Keep up the great work guys, it is vital for University departments to both move forward the science of GIS but also innovate in a commercial setting and develop products and techniques which have the potential to be used both by Industry and Government.

Have a few beers over the weekend, and enjoy the rest of your vacation !!

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

7 replies on “No comment – just grab a pint !”

It is a great shame that the licensing of Ordnance Surveys master map data again has killed a superb GIS project. OS master map pricing for the private sector in particular is simply exorbitant, and their pricing bears little resemblance to the REAL commercial world of GIS. We the taxpayers have paid over decades for the original data that OS master map and other OS products are derived from, so why should we be charged twice? The Office Of fair Trading have an ongoing investigation and I do hope that their investigators have teeth, and will act to bring reasonable pricing to the private and public GIS sectors of OS data.

In to today’s world with modern GIS systems, Ordnance Survey should have been able to make significant savings compared to the days of Rotring pens and colour wash in the production of maps. Is it the case that Ordnance Survey is simply over staffed for the work they do? One hundred and five million pounds turnover per year is substantial. The question has to be asked, is the OS expenditure justified and does the OS output represent value for money? Please note that around fifty percent of OS turnover is from other government departments which is in effect a subsidy from the taxpayer! I would suggest all staff at OS ask themselves one question at the end of each day. Have I earned my salary and pension contribution today?

It may be time to think the unthinkable and look to privatise Ordnance Survey, I do believe Google and Microsoft would be in the bidding, and certainly could bring substantial technical/financial resources to the table.

I personally would give Ordnance Survey five years in which to change or die. After that I do believe that OS will become insignificant as Google and Microsoft surge ahead with their technologies and map data. Already with Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth we have seen a number of OS map products become obsolete/uncompetitive, and it is only a matter of time before OS master map joins the list.

Ordnance Survey would be well advised to remember that as new and young blood comes into the GIS industry, alternative solutions/map data sources are being developed and used. The key question for OS is can they maintain their channels of distribution at their current pricing? In the medium to long term I think not!

Duncan Garratt

It is far too simplistic to condemn the OS as the cause of all the ill’s that characterise the UK GI marketplace.
The OS is stuck in a very difficult position: a Govt. agency tasked with making a profit out of a supposed commodity. Funded but requiring profit margins. Lumbering with two left feet from miltary past to commercial future. Afloat, but not fully capable of independent navigation. In nautical terms, it is a dumb boat. However, saying all that; it is an integral part of the fabric of the UK information structure. It represents the basis of the where the UK is now in terms of GI. Sure, there are other players, but we need to look to the OS as the reason why we are where we are right now. Like for like comparisons with Google et al. are unfair and not feasible. Different organisations: with differing constraints and objectives. The bottom line is that the OS is still the national mapping body for the UK. We should look to the other European mapping orgs as a benchmark, relative to the state of GI market in the respective countries, and move from there: cherry picking the best bits of each to make the optimal model. This is tricky situation: complicated by Govt. policy and market forces. Time will tell and ultimately will get the market and data feeds we need. In the mean time, work with what we have and formulate avenues for change that do not tear apart unnecessarily the state mapping agency.

There will always be a need from a strategic point of view to have a state-mapping agency. Having said that Ordnance Survey does and should meet the challenges of the market place, and price their map data accordingly. People might be very surprised at the sophistication of some of the applications developed using Google Maps and Virtual Earth in recent months particularly those coming out of the US.
MapDot NetServer is one example and a good case in point, and is now starting to be used by a number of major US cities including the City of Miami. Other here in the UK are using tile overlays with the latest data from Get Mapping Plc for specific areas of interest as well as overlaying ESRI shape file data as transparent raster tiles. The case in point is when deciding on what mapping data to use and the ongoing costs of royalties for mapping data, Google Maps and Virtual Earth are increasingly becoming attractive alternatives at a fraction of the cost. As I said in my last post give it five years and the commercial sector I believe will be using alterative systems, unless OS dramatically change their pricing structure.
One has to ask the question as both Google Maps and Virtual Earth are global mapping systems, are the days of the state mapping agencies numbered and will OSâ??s own products be competitive in say five or ten years time, or will they have to count on UK or EU legislation to keep them afloat in an effort to retain their government customers? If reports are true about spatial extensions for MS SQL 2008 then you will start to see a whole number of sophisticated GIS applications being developed using Google Maps or Virtual Earth as a base-mapping layer.

It might sound brutal but the two biggest software giants have entered the GIS market place, and they have deep pockets and huge technical IT resources behind them. How map data is disseminated is changing fast, in is web applications using AJAX and the like, and out is expensive legacy GIS systems. I do believe in terms of Google Maps and Virtual Earth there are great things to come that will surpass peopleâ??s wish lists in terms of GIS functionality. As they say five or ten years is a long time in the IT world!

Duncan Garratt

Maybe I am lost here, but I really don’t see how the OS can by given a comparison against Google and Microsoft. The OS is core data. Google and Microsft are core application. Sure as we move forward, they invaribly spill into the data arena. Just out of interest, are the state mapping agencies of other European countries being prepared for slaughter on the back of heightened GI awareness and user expectation on the back of two global application players now getting GI savvy?

Well let me put you straight on a couple points about map-making, and skills of a cartographer and how the core data as you describe it is derived.

1. Cartographers have used aerial photography for many years as a base layer from which to over plot in the production of maps including OS. Before the days of digital GI systems epidiascopes, dyeline machines, colour wash and the like were used. How many in the GIS industry today could produce a map to say OS standards by hand?
2. Today both Google Maps and Virtual Earth provide Aerial imagery that is regularly updated and even when this imagery is out of date, Get Mapping PLC and others often have up-to-date image tiles for areas of interest that can be overlaid.
3. 2D/3D-web mapping technology is moving apace, given a few more years this technology will mature. How GIS data is manufactured and disseminated will dramatically change as new web based technologies become popular and their user base grows.
4. Perhaps you are not aware of how some software developers have extended Google Maps and Virtual functionality. My own business has conducted successful trials in overlaying Shape file data onto Virtual Earth as transparent raster tiles using AJAX, including OS master map data. In the US many of the major cities are starting to use this method. Tile substitution is another technology that has successfully been developed using Admiralty chart data. This system is being used by the RNLI no less, for their fishing boat safety scheme. Equally others are offering sophisticated web based solutions such as Push Pin and the like.
5. The end user is demanding web-based applications that either run within a browser or use web services. Dot net is where it is going and is as big in technological terms, as the technological leap from DOS to Windows. Vista is a good case in point, give it a couple of years and it will become the core operating system for most desktops. The point I make is that GI systems are being driven by application technologies not the data. In this respect, single sources of data are becoming secondary as the driving force behind GIS applications.
6. As for European state mapping agencies well they will have to change and fast. The GIS World needs to accept the fact that they are in a competitive world where the business case, output and value for money will prevail. We are already seeing major players in the GIS World bypass the state mapping agencies as sources of map data simply because their map data is too expensive.
7. From a strategic point of view OS is becoming less important as time goes by, all three armed services have their own cartographers who can produce maps for anywhere in the world.

I trained as a military cartographer over twenty ago and between now and then technology has changed the cartographers toolkit beyond recognition, yet the core skills remain the same. Today what would have taken days if not weeks can be done in hours, and any mistakes can be corrected in minutes, unlike cartographers of old who would have to start again from scratch. So why then is master map so expensive and beyond the reach of most of the private sector? The GIS industry is right to question the pricing of OS. Personally I do not want to see the OS abolished but they must change their pricing strategy if they are to survive.

Cartography is a fascinating subject with a long history,but the days of the traditional cartographer outside of universities I believe are numbered, as the skills of people involved in the production of maps are downgraded, and the skills of the computer programmer both in terms of GIS application development and component writing come to the for.

Lastly for those die hard fans of Window form based GIS systems let me leave you with this thought. What if you could encapsulate the Google Maps API or Virtual Earth API in a win form .Net control with .Net event handlers, properties and methods, with functionality traditionally found in GIS libraries such as, TatukGIS, ESRI or other GIS vendors? Think about what have you got? A win form GIS toolkit with an inbuilt Worldwide map base layer in road, aerial or hybrid and in Virtual Earth’s case 3D as well! Well you will be able buy it very soon for a few hundred pounds! Incorporating maps directly within windows .Net applications will cost a fraction compared to the more traditional GIS technologies.

Duncan Garratt

I feel straightened. Fatigued even. All things I thought I knew but didn’t. Thanks. Must cancel that order of ink.

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